Being gay is like being left handed.
Left handed people just are. It’s how their minds work. And NO, I’m not saying that left handed has ANYTHING to do with being gay or that left handed people are gay, so don’t write me crazy letters about it. What I am saying is that being left handed is not a choice. It is a function of the brains of left handed people. Maybe it’s structural or genetic but, whatever the case, it is a natural state of being.
Those with primitive religious beliefs have subjected the left handed to suspicion and derision. The word sinister, which we use to mean evil, untrustworthy and “underhanded,” is actually the Latin word for left. Left handed children have been forced to use their right hands, often to their mental detriment and never in their best interest.
Such old ideas seem silly and ill informed in this era. The President is left handed, for heaven’s sake, and clearly no one feels prejudiced against him! Right?
Our primitive beliefs about the left handed have abated, though systemic bias still exists. The world is literally designed for the right handed majority.
In much the same way, gay people live as a minority in a world designed for the majority. The primitive religious beliefs of some, have been used to push gay people outside society. Simple social customs like dating, the prom, going steady and marriage, around which society is designed, have been denied to gay people. Attempts to participate in these normal social rituals from a same sex perspective have been punished by further exclusions in work, housing and the rights of citizenship like peaceable assembly and the pursuit of happiness.
As a result, our resourceful, creative and gay little band developed a shadow society within the boundaries that second class citizenship forced upon us. The rituals of pair bonding were replaced by furtive outlaw sex not necessarily because it’s what we wanted but because we had no other choice. We were not allowed to participate in the personal sexual evolution that leads to the expression of the pair bond through marriage.
If you are forced to live outside society, your behavior becomes anti-social, not by design but by necessity. In this way, we became antisocial, not by choice but for want of choice.
Enter the 21st Century.
After forty plus years of civil rights struggle, gay people are beginning to attain the rights of full American Citizenship. We’re not there yet, but with the fall of federally institutionalized discrimination and the rise of marriage rights, gay people are getting closer to getting what we asked for and what we said we wanted.
The news is great and getting better, but the response in some quarters is surprising.
Like the people in Plato’s cave, many gay people have come to believe that the shadow life of second class citizenry IS being gay. People in and outside the community have confused and conflated the anonymous hook ups and cover-of-darkness-sexuality that has long been our only option with what it means to be gay. That is no more true than saying that S&M is what it means to be straight even though the Marquis de Sade and the majority of those who follow in his path are straight.
Gay people are ten percent of everyone – every group. We are not all the same save for the one relatively minor shared trait of our sexual, same-gender preference. It would be a mistake and an extreme form of discrimination to try to describe all gay people in such limited terms. We don’t all want to hang out at bath houses. Some of us don’t like gay bars. Some of us like to get up in drag and some are happier in a sports stadium. We are not any one thing, though who we are allowed to be has been severely limited for a very long time.
But as those limits fall away, surprising new oppressors are emerging.
We have an election coming up in my little town with its big gay population. I’ve been thrown by the way this issue has arisen. The same people who fought and marched for the rights of marriage, whose bumpers are stickered with slogans about hate not being a “family value” are now opposed to including gay people into the mainstream.
A local gay politician here is actually campaigning against our being a “family oriented” community. His Tea-Party tactics are whipping up fear in gay people who have lived as second class citizens so long they seem to have forgotten that the battle against Proposition H8 was a battle FOR gay families.
Now, no one is saying that any rarified sexual tastes should be denied anybody, or at least I’m not. Hell, gay people can’t hold a candle to what straight people get up to sexually. There are 8 billion people in the world and gays had nothing to do with it. Sexual behavior neither defines nor characterizes anyone’s participation in society as a whole. What’s more everyone has the right to opt out of participation in social norms. I hope what we’ve fought for is to make that right one of our choices, not our only option as it has been for too long.
Gaining admission to the mainstream means letting go of our second class status. Equal rights doesn’t mean that I can do whatever I want to. Equal rights means taking equal responsibility. Saying “I Do” comes with a whole host of duties, whether it’s taking an oath to defend my country, become a citizen, or show up for my partner no matter what. It means growing up. For a very long time we have been forced to live outside society. We have embraced and come to love the antisocial behavior that was forced upon us. We have lived like lost boys, excluded from the rights and privileges of becoming men and women.
We can still live the Peter Pan life if we choose to, but that is not equality. That is a choice.
As we gain our rights after this long, hard fought struggle — a struggle that is far from over — I hope we will not lose sight of what it is so many have sacrificed so much to achieve.
African Americans endured and survived years of discrimination but it would be a mistake to allow slavery to define what is it to be black.
I do not want to lose the cultural identity of our gay community. Neither do I want an identity forced upon me by those who claim to be on my side. Victory is taking our place at the table, not demanding a table of our own.